NOTE – It is necessary, now, to make a correction of an error in this post, and to better fit these posts up with a bit more vocabulary to enhance understanding of gender issues in foster care generally. Repeatedly throughout this post, I used the term transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) to refer to children and adults who are not cisgender. Cisgender [PDF pg. 1], according to the American Psychological Associations’ “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People” is an “adjective used to describe a person whose gender identity and gender expression align with sex assigned at birth; a person who is not TGNC.” The issue with the TGNC terminology is that it is, in and of itself, exclusionary. A better terminology would be trans and gender non-binary (TGNB) because it fundamentally recognizes that gender is a spectrum, rather than a binary state.
As stated in my last post, transgender and gender non-conforming youth face unique and grave challenges in the foster care system. At its core, the fundamental risk faced by trans and gender non-binary (TGNB) youth is that they will suffer mistreatment, due to prejudice or indifference, in the care of non-specialized group homes—group homes that, as a result of the federal and state reforms seeking to move away from such institutions, will lack specially trained staff and targeted programming. This change means that TGNB youth will either be in group homes that don’t address their needs or be isolated in resource homes that also lack specialized training and programming.
As explained in my previous posts, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are detrimental to juvenile development and have lasting affects that shape adult behavior. Therefore, the subsection of youth in the foster care system is vulnerable to the detrimental affects of ACEs and should be afforded additional care and services.
But since ACEs seem to be
fairly pervasive, how do we determine who has ACEs and how many they have?
Implementation of a Universal Form of ACE Testing:
In this post, I will discuss the history of the Child Welfare System with a focus on socioeconomic class, and how that history impacts our system today. The forerunners of today’s Child Welfare System were right to focus on placing kids with families but were wrong about which families were best. That history helps explain why kinship care has been historically disfavored.
Now that we have discussed how the basic needs of children include love, protection, a sense of nurturing and belonging, stability, and support, how do we ensure that youth within the foster care system are provided with these staples so they need not seek them from outside influences such as gangs? In this post, I will talk about how community-based services can help minimize and hopefully prevent gang involvement for youth within the foster care system, as well as ways in which we, as members of the community, may be able to provide these children with some sense of stability and consistency while they are in the chaos that is currently the foster care system.
As a threshold issue, figuring out
exactly which jurisdictions currently use an integrated systems approach for
dually-involved youth can be tricky because many jurisdictions that use an
integrated model have different variations of it, and I have not found any one
resource that lists them all. The reason for the variations is that, although
using integrated models is helpful for DIY, using a one-size fits all approach
is unlikely to get the best results for any one place. Each jurisdiction should
implement an integrated model in a way that is best for their particular
community. The most comprehensive list of jurisdictions using an integrated
model I have found uses the Crossover
Youth Practice Model (CYPM). According to this data, 103 counties in 21
states have implemented or are in the process of implementing the CYPM. To put
that in perspective, there are 3,142
counties or county equivalents in the United States, which means only about
3 percent of counties in the United States use this model. This number, of
course, does not take into account jurisdictions using another version of the
integrated systems model.
DIY courts are not the norm. Why are they not
One possible reason DIY courts are
not the norm could be due to a lack of publicity. In
2017, over 443,000 children in the United States spent time in foster care.
It is estimated that about 25 percent of
those children will be involved in the criminal justice system within two
years of leaving care. This figure does
not include the children already involved in the juvenile justice system while
they are in some sort of foster care. Using these numbers as a guide, if we
estimate that every year somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 children and
young adults will be involved in both the foster care and criminal justice
systems, that is only .06 percent of the population of the U.S. Given that such
a small percentage of people fit into this category, it is easy to see why more
people are not aware of the difficulties of treating DIY.
From the outside looking in, gangs are comparable to family systems. In fact, as I will explain below, some gangs explicitly refer to themselves as “families” or “brotherhoods” and have mottos that encompass this familial idea. Robert Muller, a psychologist specializing in trauma, explained “that young adults join gangs because they both act as a surrogate family, as well as provide a sense of belonging…” Based on interviews conducted with current and former gang members, Muller stated:
Several gang members said that being part of a gang meant you were never alone in the world, which is similar to how many people describe being part of a close-knit family or group of friends. Gangs provide members a sense of belonging and protection they do not receive from other relationships or experiences in life.
Is this sense of belonging and protection what attracts children to gangs in the first place? The interviews Muller relied on revealed that “Bloods, Crips, and MS13 members all say they can identify with ‘Scarface.’ The feeling of being an outsider, dismissed and looked down on, is what gang members say drew them to their crews.” This explains why children in the foster care system may be more prone to joining gangs: they are often times, unfortunately, labelled as outsiders and looked at differently in comparison to children who are not involved in the child welfare system – a key reason they may feel alone and like they do not belong anywhere.